Greenpeace is working around the world to change fishing practices on the water and give consumers what they want: fish to eat that will not rob future generations of the chance to have healthy, living oceans. In recent months, we’ve seen supermarkets and tuna brands in the UK change their policies in order to keep fishing industries and fish populations going for years to come. As you can imagine, major changes by companies happen following years of Greenpeace campaigning. Here in Italy, We've been engaged with Riomare, a major tuna brand, for over a year- to get them to change their ways so that fishing communities can keep their jobs and the millions dependent on tuna for food can survive.

Earlier this week Bolton Alimentari, Riomare’s production company and one of the world’s largest companies in the global tinned tuna sector, published its policy on tuna sustainability. The company is making strong progress, but if you were waiting for the moment when you could eat Riomare tuna without fear of contributing to the destruction of our oceans, then you’ll just have to keep waiting!. So far, the company has pledged that by 2013, 45% of its tinned tuna will be caught using sustainable methods – such as pole and line fishing or FAD-free purse seining.  Progress, yes, but it means big changes need yet to come on  half of their tinned tuna.  

While this is a positive first step, it does not go far enough. For the seafood and fishing industries, sustainably-caught fish is the only way forward if they want to stay in business. No longer can they say that it’s too hard or impossible- companies around the world are proving that change can indeed happen. Princes, the main tuna brand in the UK and Netherlands, committed just last month to go 100% purse seine FAD free and pole and line by 2014. The challenge for Bolton is now clear – they need to show their customers how they intend to make the same changes in order to fully abandon destructive fishing and switching their supplies to tuna that comes from well managed stocks!

Why changing Bolton’s fishing practice is vital

Bolton is based in Italy where it runs the biggest tuna cannery in Europe, producing 3 million cans per day or 25,000 tons of tuna per year! Bolton’s main tuna brand ‘Riomare’ is present in more than 30 countries including Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Greece, Canada and Italy, where it is the  undisputed market leader with more than a 30% share of the market.  In Germany, the company sells its products in most supermarkets under the brand name Saupiquet. With such a large market for their products on land, it is easy to see why changes in their tuna purchasing could really make a difference at sea. The reality is that consumers on land have a direct impact on what happens at sea. The coastal communities in the Pacific island nations need tuna for food and need vibrant fishing industries to keep their economies going. Companies like Bolton need to change their ways so these people can survive. Consumers like you can help by demanding sustainably-sourced tuna in your tins and on your supermarket shelves.

When we first started the campaign for sustainable tuna in Italy in January 2010, Bolton were among the companies at the bottom of our ranking : no policy, no sustainable principles, no information on their labels. Last May they committed to having a clear sustainability policy by end of 2010 and gained a few positions in the Canadian Greenpeace tuna ranking in January : but until last week they had made no real changes what’s in their tins and had no public policy on tuna sourcing. Now that their policy is out, it’s clear to see that Bolton is serious about starting to make progress on sustainability. We’re hopeful that we can get them to improve even more.

Bolton has also decided to support marine reserves, committing to not source from the Pacific Commons, international waters in the Pacific Ocean that have been declared protected by Pacific Island countries. Bolton has also taken a strong position against illegal fishing, deciding not buy tuna from companies that have any vessels that engage in illegal/unreported/unregistered, or “pirate” fishing, or that have been transhipped at sea.  

Bolton is a member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), set up to promote sustainable fishing, but over recent times its policies have fallen behind the pace of progress.  Bolton is not the first of the ISSF’s members to make serious changes- Princes is also an ISSF member. But many ISSF member companies have now fallen behind and need to change their policy and practice to catch up – these slow-movers include tuna brands such as Bumble bee, Clover Leaf, John West, Thai Union/Chicken of the Sea among others. Like Bolton, these companies need to develop clear road maps for ensuring that their products are truly sustainable- necessary if the word is going to remain in the association’s name.

Other companies here in Italy are lagging behind Bolton. Mareblu, owned by the same company as John West, a year ago among most progressive brands, needs now to commit to sustainable fishing methods. Some Italian companies are showing hardly any interest in sourcing responsible tuna: Nostromo, of the Spanish group Calvo, and MareAperto STAR, produced in joint venture with Jealsa Rianxeira, do not even have a sustainability policy.  We’ll keep you updated on progress here in Italy and elsewhere. Now is the time for companies to change: for their own sake, and the future of the planet. Change is possible and our oceans can wait no longer.

Giorgia Monti is an oceans campaigner in Greenpeace Italy’s Rome office.